Petplan, the 200-employee, $125 million (yearly premiums) dog and cat veterinary insurer, has named veteran TV executive Paul Guyardo its new CEO.
Co-CEOs and cofounders Chris and Natasha Ashton, the telegenic Wharton-graduate couple who founded the company 15 years ago with backing from investor Vernon W. Hill II, have departed the company’s dog-ridden Newtown Square headquarters.
Hill, Petplan’s chairman, isn’t saying what happened. But the Moorestown- and London-based banking and real estate mogul — who also chairs Metro Bank (U.K.) and Philadelphia’s Republic First Bancorp — is a famously demanding boss. Petplan’s founders talked a lot about an enormous U.S. market that remains mostly latent, and Guyardo has a record for overseeing rapid growth at past employers including Discovery television and DirecTV. So the writing’s on the wall.
In a statement, Hill says Guyardo “was tapped to drive massive growth for Petplan,” one of a handful of U.S. pet medical insurers — others include Nationwide, Trupanion, and Healthy Paws. Together these insurers, Peplan says, insure just two million of the 185 million dogs and cats in the United States and Canada. By comparison, nearly a quarter of British dog and cat owners, and a third in Sweden, have vet policies.
Petplan markets policies underwritten by XL, a Bermuda unit of the French insurance giant AXA, through Michigan-based Fetch Insurance Agency.
The new boss, a Tampa native, told me the “break of his life” was joining investor Barry Diller’s Florida-based HSN, the home shopping network that’s now part of West Chester-based Qurate (QVC) in 1996 as chief marketing officer.
“Back then, everyone was concerned about big 30-second TV commercials," Guyardo recalls. "But I stumbled onto data. I realized we had this great database of our customers — we had [a record of] every call they make, every transaction they do, how frequently they call us, what they purchase.”
He studied consumer moves like an old-time stock trader scrutinizing ticker tape for market signals. “People who bought pots and pans, if you didn’t reach out to them with a promotional offer, you’d never see them again. And then people who bought jewelry, cosmetics, apparel, they would come back again and again, you didn’t need to give them any promotion. For them, we created the auto-replenishment programs" with automatic new offers based on their buying patterns.
“This is ho-hum today, but it was state of the art back then,” Guyardo added. "I’ve now been in direct-to-consumer all my life. You can measure everything you do, and base your decisions on what the consumer tells you — from analyzing the data.”
From HSN he became chief revenue and marketing officer at DirectTV, then owned by Fox boss Rupert Murdoch. On his watch sales doubled to $25 billion. “I spent a billion dollars a year” adding 3.5 milllion new customers annually to keep ahead of customers who left. “We did highly targeted online and offline media to attract customers, who had to stay at least two years to pay back the cost of luring them.”
He served a stint as chief marketing officer at Kmart, and was until last year chief commercial officer at Discovery television, where he brags of quadrupling subscribers to its European sports service, to a million, and adding nine popular TV-streaming apps.
At Petplan, Guyardo says his orders aren’t to build radical new ways of finding customers — but to energetically apply the classics of the past generation of data-guided marketing to what is still an infant industry.
As far as he can see, insurance “operates exactly like a direct-to-consumer subscription service. We decide our cost per [customer] acquisition. We have to target, not just all pets, but the puppies, and certain breeds that tend to stay in the program longer. It’s exactly the same skill set” as in TV sales.
“Everything I learned selling DirecTV and sold at Discovery can be applied to this business as well.” In pay TV, where Guyardo competed against Comcast and TimeWarner, it’s all about annual customer retention, acquisition costs balanced against loss ratios.
Guyardo serves on the board of a Philadelphia company, NutriSystem, which agreed to be sold in December to Tivity of Nashville for $1.4 billion. He had been recruited as a potential NutriSystem CEO in 2012 . “I passed,” but got to know directors Mike Hagan and Brian Tierney, and joined them.
The Ashtons were avid pet owners and instituted a policy of encouraging staff to bring well-behaved animal companions to work. That policy continues. The Guyardos own a Shichon — Huncho, named by his son and his pals for the rapper Huncho Cuervo.
Guyardo says it’s a switch to leave pay TV — raiding Comcast and TimeWarner for customers — for a business where the job is landing first-time buyers.